The owner's story

Having been stored for many years, Lotus 33 R11 is poised for a sympathetic restoration

I have known R11’s owner for well over 30 years. He is an absolutely dyed-in-the-wool racing enthusiast with a highly cultured, rather studious and refined approach to his absorbing interest. He has been mentioned in many articles and books, especially on Lotus cars, only as “a private collector”  – a tag he much prefers to being named. He has, in fact, an almost phobic aversion to personal publicity. If I refer to him simply as ‘Hugh’ you’ll understand...

Hugh’s interest in motor racing derived initially from his solicitor father, who evidently enjoyed the occasional half-crown drive around Brooklands in the late 1920s and ’30s. A near neighbour in Putney had been Clive Dunfee, who crashed Bentley ‘Old No1’ fatally at the track in 1932. It was just postwar that a family friend showed Hugh a copy of The Motor magazine – “which I found fascinating” – and when he was dispatched to boarding school aged 10 “…mother ordered The Motor for me weekly and the assistant there recommended she should also add the monthly Motor Sport. To me that was like being made a member of a worldwide club – I read every copy absolutely avidly, just lapping it up…”

 “We had a small bungalow not far from Goodwood. I was taken to the 1949 Easter Meeting there, and in 1950 father took my elder brother and myself to the International Trophy at Silverstone, where we saw a seriously exciting sports car race with Ascari and Serafini in a pair of truly magnificent-sounding works Ferraris. Great days… Then there was Easter Monday Goodwood, 1952 – when Mike Hawthorn absolutely blitzed everybody with the Cooper-Bristol. That was every bit as exciting as the reports made out. And I was hooked…

 “Into the mid-1950s, 1100cc sports car racing became very significant here. I appreciated Colin Chapman’s new Lotuses as beautiful, sophisticated pieces of design. I became an early member of Club Lotus and attended their meetings in the Paviours Arms on Page Street, where Colin Chapman would be deep in conversation among 10 or a dozen ardent followers, while Hazel would be radiating elegance, fine judgment and good manners…”

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Hugh trained as a chartered surveyor before eventually working for himself in property investment. In May 1971 Sotheby’s held a car auction and offered a 1965 Ron Harris-Team Lotus Formula 2 Type 35, in which Jim Clark had won at Pau, Rouen, Albi, Crystal Palace and Brands Hatch, no less. It was offered – less engine and gearbox – for £1000.

He was unable to attend, but learned subsequently that the car had failed to sell. Later he saw the car in the MRE dealership in Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, beside an H16 BRM chassis fitted with a Ford V8 engine. 

 He recalls: “That little F2 car had the most fabulous history – yet it was sitting there unsold, and plainly unappreciated. The thought struck me that some amateur could buy it for a song, hack it about to accept some inappropriate engine and just smash it to pieces in some pipsqueak club race against the bank at Paddock Hill Bend. It was plainly affordable. I thought well, if I don’t save it, nobody will… and that is how my collecting began – if you like, to save such historic artefacts from the Philistines…”

Hugh bought cars and spares and all manner of related bits and pieces. His collecting aspired to 3-litre Formula 1. In 1976 he arrived unannounced in reception at Team Lotus’s race shop in Potash Lane, Hethel, asking to see team manager Peter Warr, whom he had never previously met: “I told him I thought the Lotus 72 was one of the most beautiful GP cars ever built, and ‘I want to buy one’. He explained that Lotus had only three – and none was for sale because the Chapman family had decided to keep one, they were keen to see another in the Donington Collection and they intended to present the third one to Ronnie Peterson whenever he won the world championship in a Lotus… 

“To Peter Warr’s great credit, he put me in touch with the Rembrandt Tobacco Corporation of South Africa, whose Team Gunston operation had three. I contacted them, they consulted Peter on price, which we agreed, and so I added a 72 to the collection.

“But then, in 1978 the Lotus 33 was brought back from America and I was given the opportunity to inspect it, before intended restoration began. I had been seated in the grandstand during that 1965 British Grand Prix at Silverstone – and looking at the car I relived the tension of those moments, seeing Jim Clark coasting out of Woodcote on every one of those late laps, with Graham Hill’s BRM screaming ever closer… 

“I really enjoyed examining the tub, and the body panels, and the six boxes of dismantled suspension parts. A few months later the owner  ’phoned, and explained he that intended to abandon his restoration plans for it. He had been offered a Supermarine Spitfire and wanted to sell R11 to help secure it – would I be interested?

* * *

“I went over later that day, and A second look confirmed my impression that for anyone interested in Lotuses, I was being offered the Mona Lisa… the car in which Jim Clark had won the world championship – effectively as original, unspoiled and yet to the wider market still then unappreciated.

“Such an opportunity would only come once. He wanted only 30 per cent of the price immediately – and so I said ‘yes’. The car was accompanied by its 2-litre BRM engine and partial remains from two Hewland HD5 gearboxes. But in the garage of my small mews home in London I already had a fuel-injected flat-crank Climax V8 engine that I’d bought earlier from MRE at Bourne End – thinking it might come in useful one day – and among spares bought in another deal I’d also got the 33’s correct ZF 5DS10 gearbox.

“So I acquired R11, and have kept it ever since. Today the time has come for it to be returned to its one-time home base in Potash Lane, and what I have asked Clive Chapman and Classic Team Lotus to do there is to imagine that his father had ordered it taken off the track immediately after that ’65 British Grand Prix victory, to be polished up for the museum. Too many great racing cars have simply been used up, unappreciated and ignored. Once R11 is back together, I feel that, for me, it will be mission accomplished…”